Since he began at the college in 1996, Hite said he has seen college tuitions rise higher and higher each year. That, he said, makes attending a community college an even better option for students today.
He was speaking at a meeting of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club, and he shared how he and his colleagues had been trying to help more students graduate from — not just enroll in — community college.
“Is a degree worth it today?” Hite asked before answering his own question. “A two-year degree will probably do more for you than a four-year degree.”
He said more and more jobs are becoming available in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, and that training for many of those jobs can come from a two-year degree.
In fact, Hite said he has seen more and more college graduates with bachelor’s degrees returning to community college to earn degrees in different fields.
To meet the demands of the ever-changing job market, he said the college has come to focus more and more on making sure students don’t just start their degrees at Cleveland State, but finish them as well.
“We’ve been good about getting people into college but not helping people get a degree,” Hite said.
One problem, he said, is students are often not prepared to tackle college-level math when they arrive, a skill vital for science and technology-related fields.
Teaching students to go into technical fields has required Cleveland State to use more and more technology within the courses. Hite shared how the college addressed the concern of students not doing well in math.
He said it all came down to realizing that not all students are “audible learners,” that many needed more than just a professor’s lecture to help them grasp mathematical concepts. In addition, Hite said about half of all Cleveland State students were 26 years of age or older, meaning years had passed since they learned math skills in high school.
The college later started a math lab where students could use computer programs to complete regular homework assignments. An instructor stays in the lab to assist any students who might need extra explanations about the work they are expected to complete. Quizzes are given in the computer lab as well. Students are given their scores immediately after taking the quizzes, so instructors do not have to spend hours of their time grading students’ work.
Hite said the process has helped many students increase their math performance so they can go on to pursue science and technology-related careers.
Another reason some students do not finish college is the financial cost involved. Hite said the college has been trying to offer more financial aid to students while embracing practices like using cheaper e-books instead of printed textbooks.
He said again that the college has been focusing its efforts on making sure students are able to graduate and pursue whatever comes after that — even if it is continuing on to earn another bachelor’s degree.
“The first and second years [of college] are the most critical,” Hite said, adding most students who drop out of college do so closer to the beginning of their college careers than the end.
In addition to the idea of making sure more students graduate, Hite spoke of how college presidents have had to focus more and more on fundraising to cover costs each year.
Hite said Cleveland State currently has an endowment of about $7 million to continue to make changes to how students are taught.
He added that some of the college’s efforts, like introducing the math lab, have actually helped save the college money because instructors are able to use their time more efficiently.